Written by James A. Contner
Directed by Douglas Petrie
Riley’s douchey friend Forrest is trying to get him to ogle girls with him. Riley would rather focus on his stack of papers to grade. Buffy is one of those girls, and Forrest tries to find out what Riley thinks of her. Then their friend Graham, who seems less douchey, joins them. Buffy, meanwhile, accidentally destroys the frozen yogurt machine with her Slayer strength, then scurries away looking panicked. It’s pretty endearing. And hey wait, the last time a dude and his friends had a conversation about what type of girls they like was when Oz was first introduced. Does that mean Riley’s about to be upgraded to love interest status? Riley’s verdict on Buffy is that she’s maybe too weird to date.
Spike is in a white room somewhere, talking in his sleep about killing Buffy. Fun. He wakes up and notices his sterile surroundings. He’s in a cell with an electrified glass door. A guy in a lab coat walks past, and there are other cells with vampires in them. This seems to be a very large facility.
Version 2 of the S4 opening credits! Oz is no longer included (noooooooo), but Spike has been added (noooooooo).
Xander and Giles are at the latter’s flat, trying to figure out stuff about the army guys. There’s really not much to research, since there won’t be anything in Giles’s ancient leather-bound books about a super modern military organization. Giles isn’t adjusting well to his expertise not being needed. Xander proposes that they summon a demon so that there will be something Buffy needs their help with. Giles merely stares at him.
Enter Buffy! Who will not be patrolling tonight, because Willow is still miserable and she feels that her time will be better served performing best friend duties. They’re going to a party. She tells the guys to handle the patrolling for her.
Spike is pacing like an exceptionally pissed off caged animal in his cell. A bag of blood drops out of a panel in the ceiling, and the vampire next door warns him not to drink it because drugs. It’s the minion guy from “The Freshman.” Spike tries to figure out who captured them. For some reason, he is completely certain this is all the work of Buffy.
The same Buffy who is currently dealing with an exploded ball-point pen and inadvertently smearing the ink all over her notes. Yes, truly a military mastermind. On their way out of psych class, Willow tries to make sure that Oz isn’t getting dropped from the roll, because she’s keeping hope alive that he’ll be back soon. Professor Walsh is rather insensitive about it, leading Willow to flee the classroom in tears. Buffy calls the professor out before following. Professor Walsh isn’t mad; in fact, she likes Buffy. Riley doesn’t get it.
Giles and Xander are gearing up for patrol. Xander has brought an entire arsenal, which seems impressive until he reveals that he doesn’t really remember any of his Private Harris alter-ego at all. I remember something from the commentary about how they clarified that point very deliberately, because they didn’t want Xander to get too cool. I’m not sure I understand why it’s necessary to keep him from displaying competence in any field. Living in your parents’ basement tends to give a person enough negative coolness points to offset at least one skill. Xander’s mom calls down to ask if he and Giles would like some fruit punch. She refers to them as “you boys,” and rather than taking offense, Giles asks if it’s raspberry. A man of good taste.
Riley is telling Forrest the tale of the zinger Buffy fired at Walsh while he plays Frisbee across a large study room with Graham. Then Parker walks by, and Forrest asks him for details about Buffy. Parker responds with a predictable level of douchiness and disrespect towards Buffy, so Riley punches him in the face.
Forrest is annoyed that Riley would lose control like that, Graham doesn’t care, and Riley realizes, to his surprise (but not to Forrest’s or Graham’s), that he apparently likes Buffy. Cute music starts up.
Spike is lying on the floor of his cell, unconscious. The blood bag is empty. A couple of lab coats wheel a gurney to his cell, unlock the door, and haul him onto the gurney. But he was faking! He chokes out one of the lab coats. (So wait, if he was only faking being unconscious, then what did he do with the blood? Pour it in his boots? Soak it up with his red shirt? Pour it very carefully along the black lines between the tiles in his cell?) He beats up some more lab coats, then frees Minion #3 (the guy from “The Freshman”) so he can lead him to the exit. They escape in a rather Indiana Jones fashion—or, Spike does. He leaves Minion #3 behind to deal with all the soldier guys who showed up to stop them, and we hear the “vamp dusting” sound as he makes it through the door alone.
Willow is sitting on her bed all depressed, listening to sad music. Someone knocks on the door, she invites them in, and it’s Riley. He wants to recruit her as his wingman for asking Buffy out. Willow notices with alarm that Buffy’s bag of weapons is sticking out from under her bed, and she sneakily tries to put it away. Riley helpfully shoves it under the bed for her. (Haha, aww.) Willow is feeling pretty cynical about relationships at the moment, though, so she’s not too keen on helping one get started between him and Buffy. However, Riley earns enough points with his gentlemanliness and his humility that Willow is willing to reveal that Buffy likes cheese. It’s a start? Also she’s going to be at a party that happens to be in the same frat house where Riley lives. He asks if Buffy has ever mentioned him. That’s a no. Also, Willow is not his wingman.
Harmony is putting up a unicorn poster in her lair. Great! More Harmony. Just what I wanted. Her hair is cute, though. Spike shows up, and she slaps him for staking her, dumping her, and leaving her. He pulls the “yeah, but I missed you” card, complete with puppy eyes, and all is instantly forgiven. He’ll be the perfect boyfriend. Just as soon as he kills Buffy. Aaand that’s where he loses Harmony. She’s not interested in going up against Buffy again. She tries to distract him from that plan with sex.
Xander, wearing binoculars, is delivering a war film style monologue to an audience of Giles, who does not appreciate it.
Buffy and Willow arrive at the party. Buffy suddenly realizes this might not be the best strategy for cheering Willow up, but Willow insists it’s fine. Considering she’s not Riley’s wingman, she gives him quite a lot of information about Buffy while Buffy’s getting a soda. He should ask Buffy to dance. He gets a panicked look. He can’t dance. (Lame! Learn!) In that case, he should make light conversation. He makes his way over to Buffy, who smiles at him. Then he completely loses it and just asks her about the Psych reading. She thinks he’s a dork. Then he offers her a cheese cube from the appetizer tray. Wow, nice recovery.
Xander and Giles have split up because Giles finds Xander annoying. Xander comes across Harmony, who is piling up a bunch of Spike’s stuff so she can burn it. They have a stand-off with threats, and then they have the most hilarious, silly fight scene ever. In slow-mo. It’s actually my fondest memory of Harmony from previous marathons of the show. They call a truce once it gets too embarrassing. She tells him about Spike. Apparently they’ve already broken up again. Xander rushes off to warn Buffy before Harmony can even finish her sentence.
At the party, Riley is sitting on a couch next to Willow, looking stunned at how much that interaction with Buffy sucked. Willow offers sympathy, sort of. Mostly just depressed snark. But then a Dingoes song starts playing, and she sinks back into misery. Riley notices and tells the DJ to skip the song, even though it’ll annoy the partiers. Aww. He’s willing to stick with Willow if she needs emotional support, but she tells him to go find Buffy again. She’s just going to go back to her dorm. He relates this information to Buffy, and he’s about to maybe ask her out when Xander rushes up. Buffy and Xander rush out of the party hand in hand, and Forrest and Graham step up on either side of Riley to serve as the Greek chorus, which he doesn’t need, thank you. All three guys head to another part of the house, where a mirror turns out to be a high-tech facial scanner and the door to an elevator that goes down into that facility Spike was trapped in. Oh hey they’re all army guys.
The Initiative facility is huge. There’s a pit in the center where vampires and demons are being experimented and operated on. And Walsh is in charge. She tells the three guys to gear up so they can go after Spike, codenamed Hostile 17. Riley has a higher status in the Initiative than Forrest or Graham. He briefs everyone on their mission, and then they move out.
Buffy, Giles, and Xander are at Giles’s place. Buffy is super annoyed that she had to ditch the party because of Spike. Xander ribs her a little about Riley, but Buffy doesn’t care about Riley, so he gets no traction. Buffy’s going to go fight Spike one-on-one, and she intends to finish it this time. Xander makes her take a flare gun so she can alert them if there’s more trouble than she can handle. (Why don’t these people have cell phones yet? Angel has one, and he’s got a better reason to be behind the times than any of them.)
Spike has ransacked the registrar’s office looking for information about Buffy. He finds her dorm room on the computer. Since it didn’t occur to Buffy that Spike would be resourceful enough to find out where she lives on campus, she’s just waiting for him on a bench somewhere outside, which is where Riley, Forrest, and Graham find her. Forrest thinks Buffy would make good bait, but Riley disagrees strongly enough to pull rank to make his point. Riley goes out to try to get her out of the way so he and the Initiative guys can continue their hunt for Spike without any civilian interference, and Buffy tries to get him out of the way so that she can continue her hunt for Spike without any civilian interference. Haha. Their conversation is somehow less awkward when they’re both being unsubtle and trying to cover up Plot A goals than it was when Riley was trying to ask her out. Someone screams, and they immediately abandon their argument to run in opposite directions.
Willow is lying on her bed all depressed, listening to more sad music. Someone knocks on the door, she invites them in, and it’s Spike. Oops. He prowls closer. She tries to make a run for the door, and he throws her back against her lamp table. He’s going to either kill her or turn her. Her choice. She screams, he grabs her, turns the music way up, and throws her down on the bed, straddles her, and leans in for the bite. Out in the hall nobody notices anything.
After the commercial break, we return to find Spike sitting on the end of the bed and Willow staring at him in alarm. She seems fine, and he seems upset. He tries to bite her a couple more times, but gets slammed with massive brain pain and can’t do it. Then they make an extended impotence joke. I really hate this scene. If they were going to make a sexual impotence joke about Spike’s inability to perform as a vampire, they probably shouldn’t have made his initial attack look so much like violent sexual assault. Why would Willow be flattered that Spike finds her bitable thirty seconds after he tried to kill her? I think I could have appreciated the joke more if Willow’s attitude had been incredulous, or maybe if her sympathy had been a ruse to get him to drop his guard so she could escape. Not this weirdness.
Outside, Riley, Forrest and Graham find Spike by using a thermal scanning device, which shows humans as red splotches of heat. Spike shows up as a blue splotch of absence-of-heat. Um. Okay. Maybe you could track a frost giant with one of those things, but vampires would be the same temperature as their surroundings. They would be completely invisible on a thermal scanner.
Also, in what universe is 62.3°F considered room temperature? I’d need a sweater and a blanket in a room that cold. The army guys move in.
In the dorm room, Spike is still whining about not being able to bite Willow without getting hit with all that pain. Willow continues to be consoling, then realizes how absurd that is, smashes a lamp over his head, and runs for the door. But alas, the Initiative has put the building on lockdown, so the door won’t open. Riley, Forrest, and Graham, wearing night-vision goggles, break into the room. Willow barrels into them, and then Spike comes out. He has the same problem when he tries to bite one of them as when he bit Willow. They have him subdued, but while they argue over whether or not they need to quarantine Willow, Spike gets free. They try to tase him, but they get the fire extinguisher he’s holding up as a shield instead. Then Buffy arrives and fires her flare in the hall. The night-vision guys are all temporarily blinded, so they can’t see who’s beating them up. Willow goes back in the room and Spike dives through a window while Buffy fights. Riley aborts the mission.
Walsh isn’t pleased. The Initiative guys are under the impression that Buffy was on Spike’s side, not Willow’s. Fortunately, they didn’t get a good look at her because of the exploded fire extinguisher and the flare. On the plus side, the implant they put in Spike’s head to cause pain whenever he tries to harm a human is working just fine. So he should be pretty easy to capture now.
Riley sees Buffy on campus the next day, and he hurries to catch up with her. Buffy still seems oblivious to his interest in her. She possibly finds him weird in an endearing way now, though. So I guess that’s progress for him. Also I’m very sick of the word “peculiar.” Can they never say it again? That’d be great.
*puffs up cheeks and slowly lets the air out* “The Initiative.” It’s the first one post-Oz, it’s the one that sets up Buffy/Riley, and it’s the one that sets up Spike to eventually be part of the Scooby gang. Since I’m a fierce Buffy/Angel and Willow/Oz shipper and not a Spike fan, there’s not a lot for me to like here. In fact, I rather resent this episode. I do think that the Initiative’s introduction to the story was done well, though it could’ve been better if the foreshadowing had started in an earlier season, like what happened with the Mayor. Right now, the Initiative isn’t a threat so much as a complication, which is good. If they were already a threat, then there wouldn’t be much the Scoobies could do about it, since all they know is that there are organized army guys running around campus. This way, there’s time for the situation to escalate while Buffy and the others learn more. Maybe it’s just my deeply engrained preference for Angel talking, but even though Riley’s quite a gentleman in his approach to Buffy, I just find that whole plotline annoying. Their initial meet-cute/concussion aside, Riley and Buffy have had minimal contact since they met. Maybe a few hints before now that Riley has a crush would’ve helped. Especially since Forrest and Graham act like Riley’s crush has been super obvious for a while. One thing I’ll grudgingly admit they did right was to not throw Spike in with the Scoobies in the same episode he got his chip. This way, the chip just looks like another sucky thing Spike has to deal with. The chip may be the most contrived, technologically preposterous thing in the show, but to have the first time it works be when Spike’s trying to kill Willow is probably the best way to do it. We, the audience, are willing to accept anything that keeps Willow alive, even an advanced, functioning behavioral modification chip made in 1999. They’re kind of inconsistent about how it works. I’m going to assume that the Initiative activates it remotely after Spike escapes, which would explain how he was able to harm the lab coat guys on his way out.
Buffy had to prioritize slaying over being a best friend last time, so she’s determined to make up for it now. I’m not sure why she thinks a party will be the best way to do this, though. Shouldn’t she be buying lots of ice cream and renting lots of movies so that she and Willow can curl up together in their pajamas? I really like the way she stands up to Walsh for Willow, though. That’s kind of how I am. If someone’s giving me a hard time, I might fight back, I might sit there and take it while fighting back tears, or I might run away. But if someone gives someone I care about a hard time, they are going down. I also really love Buffy’s reaction to the news that Spike is back. She is so beyond done with dealing with his crap, and it’s hilarious.
If Xander spends so much of his time worrying about how useless he is to the Scoobies, then it really makes no sense for him not to try doing something about that. Giles is unemployed, so I’m sure if Xander asked him for some training, he’d say yes. Even acknowledging that all his soldier memories are gone hasn’t inspired him to do something constructive. The best he can do is joke about creating a supernatural problem so he can get credit for solving it. Come on! Show some drive!
Willow is pretty much just sad. She seems to be torn between denial over Oz’s departure and despair of ever seeing him again. The way she responds to Riley is possibly the most positive example of her encouraging a relationship for Buffy (although I do support a lot of what she did to promote Buffy/Angel, because I’m physically incapable of not supporting that). Instead of pushing Buffy at a guy, she learns enough about the guy to determine that he might be a good match for Buffy. Or at least, that he’s not another Parker. As miserable as she is, she’ll still help Riley a little once he’s earned her approval, and my favorite thing about Riley is his consideration for Willow’s feelings. He really is a gentleman.
Ew, Spike is in the opening credits so now I have to do a character analysis section on him for the rest of the show. *makes a face* I’ll try to be as fair as possible. He gets to be pretty Indiana Jones-y with his escape from the Initiative (if Indiana Jones was the kind of guy who chucked his allies at his enemies to slow them down). I think there’s something in the commentary about how they realized that they’d had Spike lose nearly every fight he’s been in so far, so they wanted to do something to build up his coolness factor a little bit more. Probably a good idea, especially now that they’ve saddled him with a crippling handicap. As I already mentioned, I’m not a fan of the rape-y looking murder attempt on Willow (or its aftermath), but it isn’t exactly out of character for Spike to make feeding look like sexual assault. He does that practically every time. He also continues to use/manipulate/abuse Harmony, but at least she’s not (currently) putting up with that.
Giles is officially sick of unemployment. He’s sunk to the level of drinking fruit punch in the Harris’s basement with Xander, which is very sad. He interacts more with Xander than he has in any other episode so far, but if they’re bonding at all, it’s not really a positive thing for Giles, who clearly dislikes being as useless as Xander.
“And ‘they’ are? The government? Nazis? A major cosmetics company?”
“Remember, if you hurt her, I will beat you to death with a shovel. A vague disclaimer is nobody’s friend. Have fun!”
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The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.